How to Get on Shark Tank and Launch Your Business from Idea to Reality
Since 2009, American television audiences have watched ambitious entrepreneurs take a lonely stage in front of a panel of wealthy would-be investor “sharks” to pitch their business idea in hopes of an investment deal.
Wildly successful pitches have helped launch some small businesses into international sales generators, like Scrub Daddy—maker of smiley-faced kitchen sponges.
The hit ABC show Shark Tank offers these ambitious small-business owners a chance at their dreams of success. Each episode features several pitches, chosen from among thousands of applicants. But only a few conclude with a shark taking the bite—and a significant portion of deals actually fall through after the show airs.
So is the whole process worth it? We talked to several Shark Tank alum, and the resounding answer is yes.
If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur with your own big idea, we’ve got the lowdown on what it takes to get on Shark Tank and how to make your pitch a success. The good news? Even if you don’t make it on the show—or you do but don’t get a deal—the experience can boost your brand and your sales revenue.
Tips for Getting on Shark Tank
There’s no magic bullet for clinching a successful Shark Tank effort. But our research and conversations with folks who’ve experienced the show uncovered a few steps that could improve your chances.
1: Develop the right business idea
Easier said than done, right? Well, if you’re considering applying for Shark Tank, you already have a brilliant idea you think customers would want. The trick is convincing the show’s producers that it’s brilliant too.
Fortunately, the show has featured pitches from a wide range of products and services. From odor-reducing sticks for kids’ athletic gloves to an online ice cream gift delivery service, Shark Tank chooses entrepreneurs with diverse backgrounds and ideas to have their shot at making a deal.
My husband and I have always been huge fans of the show and watch it regularly. One night while watching, we recognized acquaintances pitching their product. I realized then that there wasn’t anything holding me back from pitching my business. I quickly emailed ABC, and just a few weeks later the network contacted me to express their interests in featuring [us].
To improve your odds with producers, make sure you have the credibility and business history to back up any claims you make. And show your receipts. As much as possible, secure patents, set up a website, shoot photography, collect customer testimonials and insights, conduct market research, and document any sale or presale information that you can—before submitting an application.
We got on [season four] mostly because one of the producers had sensitive skin/eczema and our detergent is great for those conditions.
2: Create an engaging video
At some point during the application process, you’ll need to submit a video, usually 10 minutes long, featuring you and your business idea. The video is crucial to the process because it’s the first chance (unless you attend an open casting) that show producers have to see your personality, energy, passion, and style.
You don’t have to produce an Oscar-worthy piece of film. But the video should be engaging and TV-worthy. Be yourself and show your personality. Talk about the “big story” and the reasons why you created your business idea in the first place.
Use your video to say precisely what you want. What do you need that you could only accomplish with investment from the sharks? Would help with branding and marketing launch your business to the next level? What do you expect your company to do with investment dollars? Don’t be afraid to talk about the weak spots in your business—that’s why you’re asking for help!
Also, find the drama. Talk about what going on the show and making a deal with a shark would mean to you, not just your business. Share your entrepreneurial dreams. You don’t need to be overly sentimental, but do make it personal.
3: Be patient and stick with the process
The Shark Tank application process can be a long one. The alums we spoke to often went through several rounds of interviews, paperwork, and videos. Some entrepreneurs waited months before they got the call to hop on a plane and take the plunge into the tank.
“The whole process took about two and a half months of weekly calls or emails [until] I finally (about two weeks before) got the ‘You are a definite for LA,’ and that came with a flight.”
Staying committed to the audition process is essential. Even if producers ask you the same questions or you complete the same forms over and over, the producers will notice and appreciate those who stick with the process. You want to stay on their minds and in their inboxes because you never know when you might get your chance.
4. Once you’re chosen: Practice for your big moment
A Shark Tank producer has just called: you’re in! Now what?
After screaming at the top of your lungs in excitement, it’s time to get to work on your final pitch.
We’re not sure what the average wait time is between getting accepted for the show and filming your pitch, but it could be up to two weeks. Despite what we imagine is an excruciating waiting period, don’t tell anyone.
Shark Tank requires participants to sign a nondisclosure agreement, which means you can’t say much, except to the producers, until your show airs. The good news is that you can use the silent time to prepare for your big moment.
Kelley applied to be on Shark Tank [and submitted] all financial and business details (presale numbers, patent information, profit margins, etc.). Once she received word that she was going to be on the show, it was crunch time. Kelley watched every episode of Shark Tank, studying exactly what it is that made the sharks happy, particularly Lori Greiner, known as the ‘Queen of QVC.’ She understood that persuasiveness was not enough. Entrepreneurs that emerged from the tank with a lucrative deal were prepared with numbers that served as proof of their success.
Prepare your products, pitch props, marketing materials, and financial documents. Then practice, practice, practice. Make sure you know your stuff, from your personal story to your financial forecasts. Practice recalling the facts while staying comfortable and natural. Film yourself and watch for potential pitfalls.
5. Nail your pitch
If you’ve watched any episode of Shark Tank, you’ve probably guessed what anyone who’s appeared on the show could likely tell you: the experience is emotional, exhilarating, and nerve-wracking.
But don’t worry too much. You know your business, you’ve done your homework, and you’re ready to make a deal.
[Getting] the chance to pitch a service that I believe so passionately in—because I knew its potential to help people—was exhilarating. As an entrepreneur, I understood that this appearance alone had the potential to take the business to a much higher level, which absolutely happened once we received Mark’s investment and blessing.
Just like with your application video, make sure you show your passion and your personality. The sharks want to make a good deal, it’s true, but they also want to make good TV. Remember to find the drama in your story and connect it to your business goals.
What to avoid in your Shark Tank pitch
Set your boundaries but prepare for flexibility. You should have a specific investment structure in mind, but don’t shoot down an offer just because it isn’t exactly the number or investor you imagined.
Don’t get too lost in the numbers. Focus on the big picture—what your idea means for you, your business, and the world—and imagine future success.
Also, don’t get intimidated or starstruck. The sharks are famous and influential business people, but they’re also humans just like you. Try to relate to them as you would any other potential business partner.
What if you don’t make a deal?
Even if you follow every word of advice and have the perfect product, you may not strike a Shark Tank deal.
The show’s producers and investors have their own agendas and budgets in mind. And you may just be unlucky.
However, not landing a deal on the show doesn’t mean your business idea is doomed. Plenty of Shark Tank “losers” have blossomed into wildly successful businesses. The experience, exposure, and practice pitching to investors can boost your entrepreneurial spirit—and market share.
Until Shark Tank, we had done $2 million in sales over five years. [After the show,] we did over $500,000 in three months [and] were up over 150%. . . . We knew we had the right people and products, but we needed the promotion to let people know ice cream gifts exist. However, even though we did not make a deal. . . . we learned that a win may be disguised as a loss. The experience of Shark Tank also gave us a huge boost of optimism.
Plus, even if the sharks pass on your idea, there’s a chance you’ll end up with a deal of your own from an investor who liked your Shark Tank pitch.
Ultimately, if you’ve developed a great business idea, it’s worth giving Shark Tank a shot.
How to finance your business without Shark Tank
Of course, going on national television isn’t the only way to fund your small-business dreams. From microloans to crowdfunding, you have plenty of choices for securing capital to fuel your company.
We recommend Lendio, an easy-to-use platform that can match your small business to lenders offering loans with affordable rates.
Whether your business jumps into the Shark Tank or not, you can find the help you need to succeed.
Quotations from third-party sources have been edited and condensed for clarity.